One of the most notable aspects of Seattle Schools is the diversity in methods among its individual districts, schools and teachers. Whether the topic is academics or communication, Seattle Schools are getting it done in a variety of ways.
Take the new superintendent of Enumclaw Schools, Mike Nelson. After his first 100 days in office, the buzz is that he is bringing business sense to this very rural region of Seattle Schools. According to a recent article in The Seattle Times Nelson literally sits in a desk by the front door of the district office in order to “be the first line of communication to the public. ” Nelson formerly served Seattle Schools as part of the initiative to reorganize high schools into smaller learning communities, as part of a $2.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nelson’s top down approach to improving his corner of the Seattle Schools focuses on communication, infrastructure, academics and culture. Seattle Schools’ parents are responding well to his consistent correspondence and community meetings.
Another from the top initiative will be implemented in the fall when the Edmonds School District institutes a $2.2 million math initiative. The Edmonds district first got attention among Seattle Schools when it successfully targeted reading and raised student test scores to the 80-90 percentile. Math scores, however, remain in the 40% range.
Seattle Schools are waiting for the state to decide on a math curriculum for the fall Rather than wait, the Edmonds district decided to commit $1.3 million to teacher training and over $1million to new math books and materials. But one of their greatest hopes is the addition of math coaches for elementary schools. Seattle Schools have seen success with literacy coaches, and hope to recreate this with math. Professional development for both coaches and teachers in general is seen as instrumental since many elementary school teachers lack a strong math background. Pam Hopkins, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning said that, “We lack a lot of people with strong training in math. We need to grow our own. ”
But even teachers are not waiting for the state, or even their district, to tell them what to do. Seattle Schools’ teachers constantly come up with innovative ways to encourage math skills in their students. Some of the many method Seattle Schools’ teacher are using include: creating take-home activity boxes to encourage learning as a family, devising hands-on centers in the classroom that children can use at any skill level, utilizing appropriate computer programs to reinforce skills, and integrating learning across the curriculum. While monetary donations from groups like the Gates Foundation certainly give Seattle Schools a boost, it’s encouraging to see that teachers and administrators are taking matters into their own hands.
Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U. S. public and private K-12 schools.
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